The 'Alt Survey': Counterculture is Quietly Taking the World By Storm

Posted by Ophelia P on




Punk. Manga. Goth. Hippie. Emo. Lolita. Adventure Time. Fritz the Cat.

What do all of these words have in common?

At one time or another (for some, currently), they've all been collected together under the slippery and difficult-to-define label of counterculture.

Of course, we probably didn't need to tell you that. If you're part of counterculture/alt culture, you already know it (and probably hate the lables, none of which really encompasses the "you" that is you), and if you're not, anything that doesn't walk the white bread path is counterculture.

But just for fun, we decided to craft an article anyway that would dip into the world of alt lives and lifestyles.

And what we found amazed us (yes, us, Chris and Mel, the two crazies who conceived this store and blog in the first place). We thought we knew it all when it came to walking the alt walk. You may think the same. If so, we know you'll be interested to hear input from others who in some ways may be just like you - but in others, are what we think of when we talk counterculture: highly unique...and always surprising.

What is 'Counterculture,' Anyway?

Alternative and counterculture can be hard to define. By their very natures, indeed, they defy definition, or at least closing up in one neat little box.

So the first question we asked was, "How do you define yourself and your lifestyle? Is there a word or are there words or phrases you commonly use?

It probably won't shock most readers to learn that the majority of respondents hesitated to label themselves, just as they adamantly refused labels put on them by others. And they afforded the rest of the society that courtesy, carefully not labeling even those who would persecute them.

"My mother used to say 'emo' when I waked in the room," laughed Jay A., a 24-year-old self-professed "goth not-goth geeky weirdo Comicon sort of dude." The Plano, TX native told, "A few people still call me that...some say 'punk' and I don't think that's an insult nowadays...I just call myself Jay."

38-year-old Melissa F., San Bernardino, CA, commented, "I don't like labels so I never label anybody else. There's such a thing as a descriptor, though. Mine probably would be vamp wannabe. I'm good with that!"

And Kristen T., Shreveport, LA explained there's more to it than simply not wanting to be labeled: "I tend to be careful about using a restrictive label to represent the way I dress or the type of music I listen to because I like to adopt from different styles" Also, " fashion has changed a bit [over time]."

Alt: It's a "Thing" Now...But is It Accepted?

Whatever we call ourselves - and certainly no matter what others call us - an interesting shift has taken place since the original rebel-without-a-cause movement of the 1950s and now, with an apparent acceleration of acceptance of differences picking up in the 1990s and beyond.

But the responses to this apparent positive surprised us, too....though each had its revelation.

"I don't know if you'll want my input, I'm, well, old, LOL! I was 'alt' when there was no such word. I'm talking the 60s. San Francisco and the whole bit, I mean you can be a counterculture stereotype I was it. I still am but now I'm NORMAL...what happened?" Chara P. of Spokane, WA*, told us this during a fun and fascinating DM-over-coffee. We asked her to clarify what 'normal' and 'counterculture' meant to her, and she said:

"Well, I don't want to sound like a geezer or anything but there was a time that a person with piercings and tattoos meant you couldn't get a job anywhere but a seedy diner. Today, TEACHERS have these."

We agree with Chara: different is a "thing" now, and ironically, becoming the new normal. But is that a bad thing?

"Hate to say it but sometimes I get p*ssed when I see people copy-catting what I was brave to do 10 years ago," 27-year-old John Z. of Worcester, MA told 

And that's the critical - and fascinating - element here: at one time, counterculture was risky. Today it's becoming all right to be yourself. That should be a good thing, but what about the 'rebel' factor? Wasn't that the main point at one time?

Yes - and underneath it all, it probably still is, according to those immersed in the counterculture lifestyle. As much as we celebrate differences, there still appears to be a faction - and a strong one - that opposes them. 

"Whenever you choose to deviate from the mainstream, there will always be judgment," Kristen T., 33, of Shreveport, LA, pointed out. "There will always be people who hate what they don’t understand…or don’t care to understand. I’ve been called a “Satanist.” I think most goths have at one time or another. For some reason, the mainstream associates the color black with Satan." She added, "I always found it amusing since the clergy at one time also wore black." 

That's a good point - people may, at times, pick and choose what's "acceptable" and what isn't not by what's actually there, but the perceived "who" is underneath it...something rebels continue to face, every day.

Which brings us to...

Growing Up Goth: The Experience of Being Different

Those taking a life's walk on the alt side had a lot to say to ease the path of people either new to exposing their underlying interests and style, or young people struggling to find identity in an already difficult time of life.

John Z. said: "When I was in middle school I was just a kid with zits. T-shirts, board shorts. But always trying to magically become one of the cool kids. When I got to high school was when I started to really get brave and come out with my 'geek' interests and all my black shit. Some kids considered these cool, some kids laughed. But...I found when I presented myself as 'the real John (Z)...other kids got braver. I finally found a group of friends. We all hung together and felt protected by each other."

Kristen T. too experienced bullying, with ominous overtones that had nothing to do with her, her beliefs or how she treated others. "The bullying was worse when I was younger, probably because of the Columbine tragedy that happened in ’99," she told

Kristen's family was more accepting than some of her classmates were, but even loved ones occasionally sought to change her, though in more subtle ways. "I was often told(by extended family members) that they were going to take me “shopping” for clothes that were more colorful and more appropriate for young girls." None of this changed who Kristen really was: a quiet but brilliant future artist, musician and photographer with dreams all her own. "At the time (the efforts to change [me]) bothered me, but now I just laugh at how foolish they were," she says.

Likewise, Chara P. is able to look back on more difficult times with wisdom - and even the occasional chuckle. "Girl, you just don't know. In the 60s and 70s, being different could get you thrown into lockers. Your hair might get yanked were yelled at in the halls." Yet " glad as I am at a kinder attitude today, and a much as I am anti-bullying  there's no excuse ever, ever, EVER - I am glad for the person I am today. Being who I am, no excuses, has brought me way, way more joy in my lifetime than pain. I'd never be anybody else."

Meet the NEW 'Alt Community'

It all adds up to what amounts to a non-proselytizing yet very, very evident growing community of millions across the globe who are finding themselves earlier than ever - and daring to live their own dream.

And while, ironically, certain counterculture groups of the past have ousted their own for not conforming to their own rules, today, rules are meant to be bent, changed, or sometimes, completely ignored.

Kristen takes her inspiration from a natural artistic bent and combines different categories. "I sometimes combine neo-Romantic accessories with grunge clothing," she told us. "As a teenager I loved bands such as Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Lycia, Love Spirals Downwards, and Frolic. Loreena McKennitt was also a favorite musician of mine. Depeche Mode and The Cure also litter my music collection." That's quite a mixed bag.

Lorna T. from Spokane, WA loves to shake a Scrabble bag of alt, too. "I might wear a schoolgirl skirt with boots, and that's pretty much punk standard," she said. "But another day, I may wear a men's shirt and boyshorts, and maybe pointed fingernails. I have a lot of feelings, so why shouldn't I express them?"

Nor do those walking the alt side feel pushed into letting go of more traditional pursuits. For example, Kristen is firmly Christian, and Bobby L, Austin, TX, votes Republican in most general elections. "Yes, really," he laughed when interviewed. 

Carra V., Orange, NJ, said, "I'm a librarian. I wear black lipstick to work nearly every day. Nobody has complained yet. I feel that today, it's a different world. We no longer have to box everyone up and put a label on them."

It's a different world indeed..and we love it that way. We hope you've enjoyed this informal survey of the most unique and diverse, yet amazingly accepting, group we know. Have something to share? Contact us! We'd love to hear about you, your life, and how you express yourself as someone who loves the unwalked path.



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